Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
– St. John Chrysostom
Today is Holy Saturday. The Proper Liturgy for today is short, lasting no more than perhaps twenty minutes. It is short not because this day is unimportant, though it is largely forgotten or ignored. The liturgy is short because there is not much to say. Today is a day of silence, stillness, sitting, waiting.
A friend of mine recently commented, “You know that saying that when one door closes another opens? Well, it’s hell when you’re standing in the hallway.” That is where we are today. The Good Friday door has closed but the Easter door has not yet opened. So we stand in the hallway. We stand at the tomb.
Much of life is spent standing in the hallway, that in-between space where we can name our losses – a beloved one, a relationship, a dream, a reputation or identity, our health – but cannot yet name or know what will come next. It is the place of death, loss, emptiness, sorrow, separation. It is hell. The temptation is to run away, to busy ourselves, to do something, anything to distract us from the reality of the tomb.
The Church and today’s liturgy ask us to stay and do our tomb work – to sit and be still, to wait and be silent. This is the day that Christ, as the Apostes’ Creed says, descended into hell.This is the day Christ enters into the hell of our lives. We need to stay at the tomb long enough to discover that it is empty. There is nothing there, not even death.
Our Good Friday sorrow is not replaced by, Easter joy; it is transformed into Easter joy. The tomb is, in the words of St. Athanasius the Great, “the workshop of resurrection.”
O happy tomb! It received within itself the Creator, as one asleep, and it was made a divine treasury of life, for our salvation who sing: O God our Deliverer, blessed art thou.
Padre Seraphim offers some very insightful and interesting texts and images on this Great and Holy Saturday.